COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Boone County judge has granted what may be the first same-sex divorce in Missouri, which has a constitutional amendment against recognizing same-sex marriages.
Boone County Circuit Judge Leslie Schneider granted a divorce last month for Dena and Samantha Latimer, who were married in Massachusetts in 2009 and lived in Columbia, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported. Schneider ruled that a Missouri court can recognize the law of the state where the marriage was performed "for the limited purpose of granting equitable relief."
Schneider's ruling said while Missouri's Defense of Marriage Act prohibits a court from recognizing a same-sex marriage, Missouri courts have made judgments on marriages that were not valid to begin with, including a 1993 Western District Missouri Court of Appeals judgment on a marriage in which the parties failed to obtain a marriage license.
Schneider ruled that considering those cases, "the court maintains an authority to enter judgment with respect to a marriage that is not legally recognized."
Schneider also said that by denying same-sex couples the ability to void or dissolve their marriages, the state "runs afoul of its due process obligations" under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Missouri voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2004 to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The amendment effectively prohibits state courts from recognizing a same-sex marriage.
Tana Benner, a Columbia lawyer who represented Dena Latimer in the case, said the couple was pleased that the judge granted the divorce.
"I think they just wanted to get some relief," Benner said. "They were in a position where they didn't think it would be possible."
Christopher Clark, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal's Chicago office, said the divorce is the first his organization is aware of in Missouri. Courts in other states that don't recognize same-sex marriages have also granted divorces for same-sex couples using reasoning similar to Schneider's, he said.
"Same-sex couples are like everybody else in that they have relationships that sometimes don't work out," Clark said.